Archive for the ‘Olympics’ Category

The Unmatchable Allure of the Olympics

Posted: 08/06/2016 by levcohen in Olympics

Pretty much everything that could have gone wrong in the weeks and months leading up to the Rio Olympics did go wrong. Problems with the host nation?? Ohhh boy. Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff has been suspended from office pending an impeachment trial over accusations that she illegally manipulated government accounts. The investigation into a corruption scandal involving state-controlled oil company Petrobras, called Operation Car Wash, has implicated members of Rousseff’s party but also many of her opponents. The corruption scandal has deepened the divide between the major Brazilian parties and between Brazilian people, leading to many massive demonstrations against the government. Not ideal. But plenty of countries have corrupt governments. Brazil’s problems heading into the Olympics are much greater than just corrupt leadership. There’s also an economic crisis, one that’s led to a 3.8% shrink in the economy in 2015, an unemployment rate now in double digits and rising, and sky-high inflation rates. As a result, a lot of Brazilians aren’t exactly pleased to see so much money going to hosting the Olympics when more and more people are starving and living on the street.

Disease with no vaccination or medicine? Check. The Zika virus is prevalent in Brazil, leading to a flurry of dropouts and complaints from high-profile athletes, including United States soccer’s goalie Hope Solo, who has heard shouts of “Zika!” from the crowd whenever she’s gotten the ball in her team’s first two games. Now, there’s some debate over how likely it is that the Olympics will spread Zika, but the disease is certainly a scary thought for both athletes and fans in Rio.

Sky-high crime rates? Yup. Street robberies have shot up by 81% and murders by 38% in Brazil this year, and Rio officials declared a “state of public calamity” in June, a month in which there were 17,116 robberies in Rio state. There have already been multiple alleged crimes in the Olympic Village.

But there are also problems with the Olympics themselves. Namely, it’s impossible to rationally believe at this point that everyone’s playing on a level playing field. The Russian doping scandal, a state-controlled program going back a century, is just the latest of a long list of substance problems at the Olympics. And while some Russian athletes have been barred from competing in the Olympics, plenty have still been allowed to compete under the clearly-tainted Russian flag. And the problems don’t end with the Russians, because plenty of athletes from other countries have been busted for steroid use and plenty more have either beaten drug tests or even been given drugs by their home countries. So yeah, it’s tough to watch the 400 meter final without wondering which athletes are clean and which aren’t.

And yet… I bet you’re still going to watch the Olympics. I know I will gobble up as much of it as I can. Will the host nation’s problems dampen the atmosphere? Probably. Will the steroid questions mar the Games? They should. But, in the end, the allure of the Olympics is just too great for a number of reasons. Here are the reasons why you’ll always watch the Olympics:

  • The history. The ancient Olympic Games were religious and athletic festivals held every four years in Olympia, Greece. The competition was between city-states and kingdoms of Ancient Greece and were held from 776 BCE to 393 AD. The modern games were modeled after the ancient ones and have been held every four years since 1896 (and every two years since 1992) with the exceptions of 1916, 1940, and 1944. So when athletes break Olympic records, it means a lot. When the history is so rich, it’s hard not to want to feel part of it.
  • Patriotism. This may be less true for the United States than it is for other nations, but how often do you get to cheer on your countrymen in competitions against everyone else in non-war scenarios? Only during the Olympics. And if your friends are raving about an athlete, you’re going to want to tune in and cheer him or her on. It’s easy to grow up in Philadelphia and be a Los Angeles Lakers fan; I’d imagine that it’s harder to grow up in Norway and root against the Norwegians in the Olympics. Rarely do people get to unite with their countrymen like they do during the Olympics
  • The variety. Are you tired of watching basketball and baseball every night? Well, there’s a lot more variety in the Olympics. There are 42 Summer Olympic sports, ranging from archery to canoe to equestrian to fencing to swimming to wrestling and on and on. Chances are that you’ll find a sport or five to watch and enjoy and a sport or five for your friends and family to watch and enjoy.
  • Witnessing greatness. With some notable exceptions (I’m looking at you, golfers and basketball players), we have the pleasure of seeing the greatest athletes in the world in one place every other year and especially during the Summer Olympics. When else can you see Michael Phelps, Katie Ledecky, and Usain Bolt in the same place at the same time?
  • The competition. Not only is it two weeks of sports, but it’s also two weeks of drama-filled and high-intensity competition. This is less true in some sports (for example, both men’s and women’s basketball) than others, but you can’t watch swimming and track finals without holding your breath. And when you hear some of the athletes’ backstories and get connected to them, the events become even more heart-wrenching and certainly must-watch events.
  • Sense of community. As a fan watching the Olympics, it’s really heartwarming to see the friendships and bonds athletes from different countries and backgrounds form with each other. The fact that there’s an Olympics Refugee Team this year says it all. It’s easy to see how much this competition means to the athletes and especially for the refugees and athletes from underprivileged and/or small countries, and that in turn makes it much more enjoyable to watch.
  • Coming together. Perhaps above all, the Olympics serves as a time in which people from every corner of the world can focus on one thing. Domestic politics are omnipresent, but they’re a little less present when the Olympics are going on. Everything’s just a bit brighter and more hopeful when the athletes are plugging away at the Olympics.

Complain all you want, but I’m telling you, you will watch the Olympics, both this year and going forward.